Around this time in 2015, the wheels were beginning to fall off for Gus Poyet as Sunderland boss.
The team looked uninspired, and were lacking any definitive plan or style.
Poyet admitted that his team were ‘stuck’ - with an extremely disappointing defeat to QPR at home bringing a lot of negativity from fans, whose frustration came increasing with the style of play that the Uruguayan was attempting to implement.
Poyet himself was riddled with self-doubt, and admitted publicly that it was ‘not working’.
The manager appeared to take a dislike with the fact that fans were looking for something a little different in terms of style of play.
In his post match press conference after the QPR game he said that the fans’ fondness for ‘kick and rush’ football was simply not going to happen - and it went down like a fart in a lift.
Despite some positive signs at the end of the 2013-14 season, Poyet’s reknowned patient passing style from his days at Brighton was not paying dividends in the North East.
The truth was that for all his good intentions, he didn’t have the players at his disposal that suited his style.
In fairness to Poyet, he seemed to be aware of this - but finding a solution was appearing a little more difficult. He stated that he ‘adapted more than anyone could know’ in a quest for results, but still couldn’t find the perfect blend.
We need to come up with a way to do that. I had an idea, but it is not working.
So we need to find a way.
Poyet’s passionate defence of his principles was creating tension between him and some of the fans. There clearly was a joint frustration on both sides at how things were going for the team on the pitch, and this began to spill over to comments between management and fans.
In the build up to the FA Cup game against Bradford, Poyet confronted the comments straight up - insisting that he would not try to appease the fans, even if it means they are not particularly pleased with how the team was playing.
I agree that the relationship with the fans is very important, but you should know by now that I will not be basing my stay at the club around the fans.
I don’t think like that.
I don’t go across the pitch to clap the fans after every away game just because I think that might help to stay an extra week. That is not me, I don’t care about that. If I clap the fans, it is because I respect them, and when things have been bad, like at Southampton, that is when I will stay.
But it is all natural, not because it is what I think they want to see. And when I say things, that is natural too. Not because it is what I think they might want to hear. I want to convince the fans by playing football and winning, nothing else.
It was clear that an underlying tension was reaching boiling point. When pushed about his preferred style of play, Poyet seemed frustrated at the question and attempted to reinforce his belief that he had actually adapted his ways since arriving at the club.
You cannot imagine how much I am having to change. How many times have we played out from the back in the last three months? Hardly ever, but we should really be playing every single ball.
We’re not, and that’s because I am adapting because we can’t. We can’t, so we’re having to see if we can do something different. ‘Let’s put the big fella up there and hit it’, but then it becomes a 50-50 ball and depending on who wins it, the ball can go either way.
Gus was frustrated - frustrated with the players, the fans and probably the board because he did not have the squad that he aspired to have.
Ultimately, things were only going to get worse from this point - and Gus never did achieve the style of play he desperately wanted from his Sunderland team.